The Bwa or Bwaba (plural), or Bobo-Wule (Bobo-Oule), are an ethnic group indigenous to central Burkina Faso. They are known for their use of masks, made from leaves or wood, used in performative rituals.
Burkina Faso is a small, landlocked country north of Ghana and south of Mali and Niger. Culturally, it is extremely rich. In part this is because so few people from Burkina have converted to conventional religion.
Many of the ancient artistic traditions for which Africa is so well known have been preserved in Burkina Faso because so many people continue to honor the ancestral spirits, and the spirits of nature. In great part they honor the spirits through the use of masks and carved figures.
The art style of the Bwa is well-known to collectors and scholars around the world. Masks are used in a variety of different contexts. They appear at funerals of senior elders and at initiation’s when young men and women are taught the meanings of the masks and the importance of the spirits and enter adult village society.
The Bwa Sun Masks are contemporary pieces which marry the stylistic features of the Bwa and Bobo. Appearing during agricultural and harvest festivals, they honour the Sun and its power to yield a healthy crop. The chequer-board light and dark geometric patterns are understood and interpreted in increasingly complex ways depending on the observer. The use of light and dark pigments represent dichotomy of innocence and knowledge.
Bwa masks embody a range of protective spirits of nature, from bush spirits to butterflies to the sun itself. Bwa masks are often large in scale, two dimensional, and adorned with colourful patina. They are performed at many kinds of ceremonies and social events to celebrate.
The highly abstracted and geometric forms of the Bwa and Bobo played an important inspirational role in the development of Western art movements of the early 20th century.